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There will be a bit of a hiatus with my blog after this one as I will be travelling for the month of January. It will resume in February.
Gubinare, Okavango, Botswana, July 1983
We had been'marching' all day across Gubinare and beyond the lagoon. Tea break lasted only half an hour as Chris was eager to get going, so by dusk, we were all pretty weary. Camp was, at this stage, we thought, a long way off. To risk fumbling our way across marshes and plains with lion around would be foolish. Little else to do but to make an almighty fire and sit around it all night. It was the month of June and nights were cold.
Unfortunately, I was not dressed for a night out under the stars, wearing only a flimsy pink shirt and my shorts. Food too was scarce, and the rucksack only packed for a days excursion, so tea was our saviour. Chris had shot a green pigeon so there would be a little protein and our rucksack did contain the basics for survival out here, oil, fat, salt, sugar and tea. Our camp was close to approximately 300 buffalo which added a little excitement to the proceedings.... I had already singled out a tree I would shinny up at a moments notice! There was an abundant supply of firewood around, so a healthy fire could be maintained through the night. After eating our meagre supper and consuming endless cups of tea, we arranged ourselves around the fire, like moths around a candle. The art was to heat up as much of the bod as possible while the remaining part froze into the night. Chris begrudgingly allowed me to use the rucksack as a windbreak, which at least kept the chill from my rather exposed rump. I made a vain attempt at keeping up moral by inflicting on my companions a selection of Beatles songs that i didnt really know the words to. This did little to enhance mine and Chris' strained relations. And as men are wont to do, he defected to a morula tree and made his own fire! I didnt think my singing was that bad.
As the moon came slowly up, our quarters were illuminated. I looked over at Sal, now sleeping peacefully, curled around the fire, and clutching a Barclays Bank moneybag to her bosom, which was full of earth. The 'pillow's ' contents in this instance, were of far more value than the usual paper stuff that banks filled such bags with. Chris was lying with his back to me, his head perched rather precariously on a plastic cannister full of Holsum fat. He looked as tho' he was in the rigamortis position. I simply sat as close as possible to the fire, dreaming of hot baths and cheese sandwiches. That night seemed to go on for an eternity, I was so glad to see the sun come up at 6am. We left imediatley without even the usual procrasting cup of tea. The morning air was still very cold, which hastened our step somewhat and brought us back to camp two hours later. Four green pigeons were zapped en route.
We have, on gutting the birds, discovered that they are remarkably fond of Motsibi berries which are, as Chris found out to his cost, poisonous to humans. This made hunting a lot simpler, wherever Motsibi flourishes, there do the green pigeons too! Another pigeon we hunt quite regularly is one that does not appear to be in the Roberts Bird book, so has been named the 'Mcensis'.
13th July '83 I smell so sweet, my bath was beautiful, except for the fact the mokoro began drifting off down river.... All in a girls beauty treatment I suppose.
Chris is quite amazing... One minute an evil old bugger, the next a sweet charming person. I remain his friend but find the personality shifts hard to predict and to understand.
21st July 1983 Maun
It does not pay to mentally pre-plan an event as I did with my return to Maun. Hence, on arrival, I was just waiting for my expectations to transpire and even began looking for the negative aspects which blocked all possible positive occurrances. It was really not as bad as I had thought it would be.
The trip from the delta to Maun was 'interesting' to say the least. We left in convoy with some friends of Chris' who were visiting. We arrived at Mokobelo's village in good time. Chris had left his mokoro there and I was going to pole it down to Maun. Unfortunately, or rather, quite typically, the vessel had been 'borrowed', so my maiden trip down the Boro River was postponed. The four others went to Delta camp to fly out while Sally and I went with the infamous rogue 'Killy Billy' to his village downriver. As we neared Xaxaba village, the rinky tinkle of African music drifted over the water. In the distance I could see the bright colours of a washing line and silhouetted figures swaying capriciously with the palm trees. A pit stop was made. Killy Billy refilled his vast tummy with more cardi, leaving Sal and I to scan the collection of mokoro's for our own Cleopatra. It was futile to demand anything of Killy Billy, he was a seperate entity - a rule only unto himself and I felt sure that his vast tummy was cultivated purely by those who fear to cross him. A definate rogue, who has learned all the tricks of the trade in the tourist industry and knows exactly the right buttons to press for instant fascination, followed by great appreciation.. usually in the form of alcohol, food or the latest peice of African technology.... the torch (flashlight). I watched the entire process take place, with Chris' friends as the appreciative party.
It was obvious Sal and I were not going to be permitted to stay with our friends at the wildlife dept, which was just across the river from Killy Billy's village. A whole list of excuses gushed from KB's fat lips - whereas the truth was concealed in the obese and enlarged portion of his brain known as the cunning. He is a notorious poacher, so doesn't get on very well with the legal aspect of that art.
We stayed at his village for what felt like 3 weeks, but was only in fact one night. Our 'kitundu' (luggage) was dumped without an ounce of care right in the centre of the village and within 2 feet of the river which lay dank and still, buzzing with mosquitos. The lagubrious process of carting our meagre belongings to a more inspiring setting proved sufficiantly discomforting. We eventually found a grass area just outside the general throng, altho' I'm convinced it was the toilet, as the aroma was not that of violets.
We went to sleep quite early, which was just as well as the morning rapidly descended into chaos with Sal and I trapsing back and forth to the village in an effort to motivate our trusty, but now extremely drunk poler, KB. Each time we were informed that the second poler had been sent for from Delta camp, but had not yet arrived. This gave KB another hour or in which to consume yet more cardi and enjoy a bit of slap and tickle with one of his wives.
We became a little annoyed at this point, and were fed up with the whole bibulous village. Sitting truculently by the river, surrounded by our treasures, various people wandered down to try and sell us baskets or srounge whatever they could. Enough was enough at this stage, so we marched back to the village and literally stood over our hero, who by now was swaying, until he produced two polers and two mokoros. I found it quite disturbing watching these people reel around and yell at nothing inparticular. A retarded woman writhed sub-conciously around in the dust, her eys rolling, understanding nothing of what we concieve to be reality. Maybe hers was the reality?
When we kept nagging KB, he eventually began giving instructions to various lethargic looking youths draped around the place, and soon, eventually, and not a moment too soon, two mokoros materialized. Amidst the confusion and drunken array, an elderly gentleman emerged wearing a straw hat and carrying a walking stick. He almost looked distinguished. Sal noticed him too and remarked what a wise, respected old gent he must be. I agreed totally that he was truly a breath of fresh air to the proceedings, whereupon the old 'gentelman' extended his wrinkled arm and filled his scrawny hand with a good portion of a young girls rump. A shriek of provocative delight ensued, causing all young maidens in the vicinity to withdraw from the old studs grasp. I laughed out loud... such a 'gentleman'!!
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Okavango Swamps, June 1983
Chris, after a couple of weeks, mastered the mokoro and we have explored some of the islands surrounding the plain, up river. It’s a tremendous, intrepid feeling wandering around these ancient islands which began life as nothing more than an ant hill and perhaps have never been visited by humans. Strangle figs in the process of suffocating the innocent motsaudi trees, slowly winding their vindictive way around unsuspecting hosts. Thick, dense undergrowth providing a perfect carpet for this perfectly perfect wilderness.
Often, we'd stalk duck on the plain when returning to camp. The fowl were easily spotted, as the water level was low, and the bright new errupting grass not yet tall enough to provide cover. The hunt would always be the main topic of conversation around the camp fire that night and the quarry entered in our bird book.
My senses are developing keenly, as the tranquility allows one to recover all ones natural defenses and responses. Every sound, every sight, is as it should be. Nothing is out of place or alien - it is correct and I doubt nothing while living here.
Painting in such a place has always been my dream. I am in paradise when I sit amidst such breathtaking utopian splendour, gazing into the distance, then transferring all I see on to the canvas. I feel I am improving steadily, altho' now, after three months of landscape painting, I feel ready to paint more animated subjects.
Janice, Sally's stepsister, who has visited us twice now, took all my best work in lieu of securing my residence/research permit, which in fact I achieved myself! I actually became very depressed when I realised she had taken the best pieces, and I wondered how hard it would be to part with other work. This, I suppose, illuminates the reason why I want so much to become a good artist - simply because it is what I want to do, and not just a means of existence.
Naturally with three people living so closely, conflicts arise, and when one of them is as quick tempered as Chris, they are inevitable. He and I have regular arguments. He seems to change so quickly from being a 'seemingly' caring and loving soul, to a Hyde character who flares up and uses foul, abusive language, often over trivia. I know I am not all that easy to live with, but I can recognise a good man when I see one. Unfortunately Chris is only temporarily so, and I don't think I could ever fully trust him. The problem is that he loves to teach/boss/instruct constantly, and I find myself recoiling from his demanding, supercilious tone. Sally is rather more subservient towards him, and he greatly enjoys playing us off against eachother. I have never lived with such a character before, so do not know quite what to do after his outbursts. I try to patch up our quarrels quickly, to avoid at least 24 hrs of hollow silence. I do think I realize what sort of person he is tho', or rather 'people'.
This place has besotted me, rather more than the man I feel, so must be wary of staying here for the wrong reasons.
It's been a month since Sally and I visited Maun. I believe I'm missing other people now and find myself longing for a party! Music was bestowed upon us briefly by Map, who came to visit from Xaxaba camp and brought his casette player with him. The sound was so remarkable after all this time. I danced around like a crazed thing, completely uninhibited.
We have now moved camp to Gubinare, a large island, first explored with Andy, George and Mike. Having first come simply to camp and see game, Chris got quite carried away and we moved from Tswaralangwana immediately. Our good friends, Kioroletswe and Maturu joined the party and helped move a few vital elements from Ts. to Gubinare. Sally and I helped Maturu gather the now shrivelled morulla;s which she hacks away at with an axe in order to extract the nut which apparently is full of vitamins. Another of Horelwa's children, a young girl by the name of Natallila accompanied Maturu. It was so good to have a child around, smiling and laughing so readily.
With Chris and Kioroletswe's return, came Anthony, Sally’s cousin from UK, plus a lady called Julia, and an Irish Dr. with his Australian girlfriend. There was quite a throng around our new camp that first night. Anthony and Chris amused eachother with cheeky tales of public school days. Julia, a rather typical 'sloane ranger' made regular snide remarks throughout and I took an instant dislike to her. Luckily they only stayed for one night, which was more than enough for me!
Gubinare is a far more interesting island that Tswaralangwana with a large diversity of wildlife. Our camp is covered in spore of every kind and there is an expanse of soft green grass that runs out beyond the Motsaudi tree that is our roof.
Unfortunately, the trees are not so obliging in forming shelves for the few remaining tins, herbs, yeast etc that we have, so they are all stored in cardboard boxes. Not very aesthetically pleasing I must say. A great deal of exploring followed as the island stretches to the hippo lagoon, explored previously and beyond, totaling about 5 km. Chris lead the way on each expedition, with Sally and I following obediently behind. Immediately an animal was sighted, Sal swung into action with her camera. The animals we saw… Lechwe, impala, warthog, tsessebee, kudu, buffalo, all appeared very relaxed upon our approach, maybe because they had never seen humans before and didn’t know the dangers. The warthog, I find the most comical of all the animals with their brisk, unorthodox movements, taking off with their tails in the air as if it were their nose.
My favourite area on the island is the plain, which stretches the entire 5km, flanked on either side by dense woodland. For me, this is Africa, space, sky and the promise of wild herds in the distance. All is wild and honest.
Of course it can be hostile at times, as the three of us found out. It was a truly uncomfortable night….
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Botswana Calling #15 Smelling like Polecats 1983
The next day, I wandered about town again sketching. I had met an American girl called Beth who was working with the basket makers in Etsha and learning Mambakushu. Chris and I had tea with her, such a strange experience drinking from an earthenware mug and talking to a Westerner again!
That afternoon, a lorry was discovered going to Maun, and we made sure we were on it. Mungabe seemed upset that we were leaving so soon, but we needed to move on. The ride on the back of the lorry was amidst a crowd of other passengers, bed rolls, blankets, sacks of mealie meal and crates of coca cola to be delivered en route. The road was not tarred, and wound its way through the amber mopane trees, now rapidly losing their vivid green butterfly leaves. We licked our lips at the culinary sight of guinea fowl, which were unfortunately just out of range, despite constant hammering on the drivers roof by various travellers. We stopped in Gumare in the early evening, where Chris tried to track down an old friend of his who no longer appeared to live there. Music boomed from every angle and beers were bought from celubrious looking establishment backing on to what can only be described as and African 'pub'.
We arrived in Maun the following day and were to spend a week there which proved to be rather turbulent.
My friend Russell, on viewing us from the security of his landrover informed us that we smelled like a couple of Polecats!! Charming. I'm sure we did tho', and I was quite relieved to have a hot shower at crocodile camp. Chris stayed at Okavango lodge, which of course aroused Yoey's (the owner's ) curiosity. It was rather enjoyable at first, sitting at the bar, communicating with individuals who spoke the same language, eventually getting rather bibulous. Chris, it transpired, enjoyed drinking and being the centre of attention, which on a regular basis became tiresome and I felt the need to spend some time with other people. I suprised myself with my reaction to Chris' lack of finances (it had not been forwarded by his publisher as promised) and I seemed to lose a little respect almost instantly. Strange, as we had just spent two great months together. It was a little difficult being with a character who people seemed either to love or dislike intensely. The problem was, on retrospect, was that no one in Maun really knew Chris as I did. They saw him as merely an eccentric with romantic theories about lions, not as a person who simply looked at life differently to most.
It was at this stage I met up with Sally Barrow again. She had come to spend some time in the swamps with Chris and I. Unfortunately she too had listened to idle gossip and rumours re Chris and had been advised by her step-sister not to go anywhere with Chris. This of course did little to restore my confidence in Chris and I decided to split from him. Naturally he was very shocked and I hated doing such a thing but when there are 90 people telling you one thing and one attempting to prove you wrong, one is obviously swayed by the 90.
However, after much too-ing and fro-ing, talks, plans, and drinking, I thought that I would be extremely lucky to meet such a fellow as Chris again. I enjoyed his company and his lifestyle, and for once would do as my heart felt.
So, back to the swamps we went....this time on the back of a uni-mog belonging to 'Herman the German', who was going to do some camping with 4 other young chaps and Johnathon Bowles, complete with joint and personal stereo. He was exactly the same in the bush as in town - wearing an expression of perpetual lust.
Chris, Sally and I also had a 'hanger on' by the name of Tim - a supercillious chap from Capetown who was as impractical as Chris but well read.
Chris and I walked from Baboon camp to Twaralangwana, while Sally and Tim came up by mokorrow. Encountered a young buffallo or what remained, being scavenged by vultures and surrounded by lion spore.
Camp has been set up on the island North of Morotsi's village and its now been 6 weeks since we arrived. The going was tough at first, Chris getting increasingly annoyed with our 'girlie girl' fires and lack of bush experience.
Tim, it transpired proved even less experienced in the bush than Sal and I, altho' he gave Chris some stimulating intellectual conversation.
Life was slow, and i found myself disappearing in a whirlwind of activity, making shelves, chairs, tables and bookshelves for the camp. Sketching, painting, running and practicing with the mokorro we named 'Cleopatra'. Chris and Sally seemed happy to idle time away lying in the sun and reading, or talking about subjects already covered hundreds of times before. Feelings of guilt seem to grip me if I am not actively involved in something creative or constructive during the day. Shooting pigeons isnt exactly creative but quite necassary if a protein supply is to be secured. I've found my shooting ablilities have greatly improved. Green pigeons are perhaps the most ubiquitous edible birds in the swamp and are extremely tasty. Their call belies their position and they are hardly discreet, being of an illuminous green colour, with soft mauve wings and bright red beak. It almost seems a shame to shoot them. Finishing them off is the worst job of all, and I detest it. On being awoken by their incessant cooing, I usually get up early and shoot them from the tree which shelters our camp.Then I have the whole day to anticipate our dinner. Lovely.